SALEM, ONCE CONSIDERED a port with little potential for offshore wind development, is suddenly being called the centerpiece of the state’s efforts to become the Saudi Arabia of wind.
At a State House press conference on Monday, House Speaker Ron Mariano said he was still tinkering with legislation to promote offshore wind in Massachusetts and mentioned a recent tour he and Senate President Karen Spilka took of the Salem waterfront.
“The Senate president and I were just out to Salem viewing what we hope will be the focal point of all our offshore wind development here in Massachusetts,” he said.
That’s a major turnaround for a port that didn’t even figure in the running for offshore wind until recently. In 2010, an offshore wind port and infrastructure analysis prepared for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center focused most of its attention on New Bedford (where the state would build the offshore wind marine commerce terminal) and was fairly dismissive of Salem.
“Salem has limited potential for substantial expanded marine industrial activities, with limited access by road and rail,” the report said.
A similar study, completed in 2017, ranked 18 port facilities in Massachusetts in terms of their potential to service the offshore wind industry. All 18 were located in New Bedford, Boston, Quincy, and Fall River/Somerset. Salem didn’t make the list.
The first time Salem surfaced as a serious contender for offshore wind operations was last July, when Gov. Charlie Baker urged lawmakers to approve the use of $100 million in federal aid for offshore wind infrastructure projects in New Bedford, Somerset, Fall River, and Salem.
Salem picked up more momentum in September when Avangrid Renewables promised to use a site on the city’s waterfront for turbine assembly, staging, and storage if the company won a state contract to build an offshore wind farm off the coast of Massachusetts. In December, when Avangrid won a contract, the company promised to move ahead with its plans in Salem and also revealed that one of its suppliers would open an undersea cable manufacturing facility at Brayton Point in Somerset.
And now Mariano is hailing Salem as the focal point of offshore wind development in Massachusetts.
At his press conference on Monday, following a private meeting with Spilka and Baker, Mariano also provided an update on offshore wind legislation being developed in the House. When the House bill was approved by the Legislature’s Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee in January, it was expected to move quickly to the House floor. But it hasn’t surfaced yet.
“I think it will be acted on pretty quickly,” Mariano said. “I guess it depends on your definition of quickly. There’s legislative quickly and then there’s press quickly. I think we’re moving it forward.”
Mariano said the bill is still being revised. “We continue to adjust this bill to make sure that we understand what’s needed to make Massachusetts the premier offshore wind center on the East Coast. We want to make sure we get this right,” he said.
The speaker indicated he, the governor, and Spilka are in general agreement on offshore wind, even though Sen. Michael Barrett of Lexington, the co-chair of the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Commission, has raised serious concerns about parts of the bill.
“The Senate president and I are on the same page,” Mariano said. “We’re making sure we get it perfect.”